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2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Done And Dusted As Maluka Yacht Brings Up The Rear

January 02, 2012

At a ceremony on Hobart’s Constitution Dock on December 31, the divisional winners of the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart were awarded. Having finished ninth, Chris Bull’s British Cookson 50 Jazz yacht picked up honours in IRC Division 0, was second in ORCi Division 1 and finished fourth overall under IRC.

Sean Langman´s Maluka of Kermandie yacht Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

Sean Langman´s Maluka of Kermandie yacht Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

“I’d say this was an average one for conditions,” said Bull of this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. “It had quite a lot of tough upwind, which is what you’d expect of this race and we like that. It enabled us in the first two thirds of the race to pull away from the main rivals of our size and that was better than expected. We had 25-35 knots and we didn’t think that would continue as long.”

The difficult patch for Jazz was subsequently off the east coast of Tasmania where it was all too possible to get caught in a wind hole and crews had to rely on the progress of the boats ahead of them to negotiate a way through. One third of the way down the Tasman coast, Bull admitted they did stop for just over an hour.

Chris Bull´s sailing yacht JAZZ Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

Chris Bull´s sailing yacht JAZZ Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

In the light conditions, the TP52s got away from Jazz and it was only rounding Tasman Light and entering Storm Bay that the British boat was able to not only reel them in, but to put distance on them. Unfortunately, just when it seemed that they had it in the bag, it went very light coming up the Derwent River.

This allowed Syd Fischer’s TP52 Ragamuffin yacht to close in from astern and ultimately to beat them. “So it happened again,” said Bull with a sigh, having on two previous occasions finished second in the southern hemisphere’s most prestigious yacht race.

Syd Fischer´s sailing yacht Ragamuffin Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

Syd Fischer´s sailing yacht Ragamuffin Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

Hickman’s hopes scuppered
Up until Thursday (day three), when conditions turned light for the smaller/slower boats, Roger Hickman and his crew on the Farr 43 yacht Wild Rose had been looking favourite to claim the overall IRC handicap prize. However, as progress slowed towards the end of their race, so Stephen Ainsworth’s 63ft Loki yacht moved into the lead, claiming the prize ultimately. “You have to be philosophical,” said Hickman. “I have been privileged to have won two of these races previously.” Wild Rose won in 1993, while Hickman was sailing master on SAP Ausmaid for her handicap victory in 2000.

During the race Hickman said he contemplated super yacht Wild Oats XI taking line honours and Wild Rose (originally Bob Oatley’s first Wild Oats) winning on handicap. Unfortunately it was not to be, in either case.

Sailing yacht JAZZ Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

Sailing yacht JAZZ Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

“It was exciting, a great event,” said Hickman, who this year participated in his 35th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. “This one was special as we got to celebrate the loss of our dear friend Sally Gordon, who sailed with us for 15 Rolex Sydney Hobarts.” Gordon, Hickman’s partner, was lost along with Andrew Short, skipper of the boat she was sailing, during the Sydney to Flinders Islet Race in 2009.

This year Hickman mounted a campaign aboard Wild Rose and had success winning the Lord Howe Island and the Audi Sydney Offshore Newcastle Yacht races. For the Rolex Sydney Hobart Wild Rose was sailed with a crew comprising six men and six women, the youngest 25, the oldest 75. Despite having three first timers on board, there were still 98 Hobart races between the crew.

Rives Potts´ sailing yacht CARINA Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

Rives Potts´ sailing yacht CARINA Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

British newbie
Sailing his first Rolex Sydney Hobart was British youth singlehanded round the world sailor, Mike Perham, who arrived yesterday aboard Jessica Watson’s Sydney 38 Ella Bacheyacht another Challenge.

“It was fantastic,” said Perham. “It was more than I could have hoped for. And our second place is just amazing for a team that has never done a Hobart race together on a new boat.  When you look at the other 38s, that have done five Hobarts before, there was stiff competition. Plus the yachts are all the same, so it comes down to the crew at the end of the day.”

Perham was navigator on board and sent them the right way through the breezy first night and down the New South Wales coast and took the favourable easterly track across the mouth of Bass Strait. Into the final miles, they, like most, parked up, but Perham says that they just kept pushing. Eventually this paid off and they reached the finish in second.

Perham says he is enjoying the transition into a racing sailor. In the build up to the Rolex Sydney Hobart he and the rest of Jessica Watson’s Ella Bache Another Challenge crew spent two and a half months training, including a dry run, sailing their Sydney 38 to Hobart and back. In years to come Perham hopes to compete in the French Figaro circuit.

Long way to come
Following last year’s victory in the Bermuda Race, and a class win this August in the Rolex Fastnet Race, American Rives Potts and the crew of the 1969 classic McCurdy & Rhodes design, Carina yacht didn’t find the cards falling in their favour on this occasion.

“It was probably one of the most challenging races I’ve ever done,” admitted Potts, a veteran America’s Cup and maxi boat sailor. “It was very exciting – we had light airs, heavy airs, windward work, leeward work, challenging currents, beautiful scenery when we got down to Tasmania and a very fine start also. It was a very exciting race.”

Jessica Watson´s Ella Bache yacht Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

Jessica Watson´s Ella Bache yacht Photo: ROLEX/K. Arrigo

However their delivery from the UK didn’t leave them with enough race preparation time prior to the start. In addition, this was the first time Potts had competed in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. “It is most challenging from a weather point of view, navigation, changing gears and I think the weather changed more rapidly than any race I’ve ever seen. From zero wind to 30 knots and back and we had fronts converging on each other, currents coming from different directions – I am still giddy from it. It is a lot of fun.”

Carina is now to be delivered back to the east coast of the USA via Darwin, Bali, Christmas Island and Cape Town, hopefully in time to defend her title in the Newport-Bermuda Race.

Last home
With Hobart preparing itself for tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, so Maluka of Kermandie was the last yacht to arrive, finishing at 16:48 local time, after five days, three hours and 48 minutes at sea.

Built in 1932 as a coastal cruiser/fishing boat, the  yacht was being sailed by the Langman family, father Sean being a well known Rolex Sydney Hobart competitor. But in stark contrast to Maluka, Langman’s previous yachts have always gunned to be first across the line. Langman was a previous co-owner of this year’s line honours winner, Investec Loyal.

This year Langman senior handed over skippering of the yacht to his 18 year-old son Peter. “I thought I’d show him a race with proper turned down bed and proper meals, although having said that, the upwind stuff was pretty bumpy and rough. In fact I won the seasickness award. I was pretty crook that first night.”

This was Maluka’s third participation in the race and, according to Langman, this year’s event provided several firsts for him – aside from finishing last, on New Year’s Eve, at the start Maluka was called over early and had to return to restart.

Ironically having sailed the slowest yacht in the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Langman is shortly to step on to the fastest yacht in Australia, his 60ft trimaran yacht newly acquired from France, to make an attempt on the course record from Sydney to Hobart.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Honours For Ainsworth´s Sailing Yacht LOKI On 14th Attempt

December 30, 2011

This morning (local time) Stephen Ainsworth’s sailing yacht Loki became the handicap winner of the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Overall Handicap Winner, LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo K. Arrigo

Overall Handicap Winner, Stephen Ainsworth´s sailing yacht LOKI Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

At a presentation on board their white four year old Reichel Pugh 63 footer, Ainsworth and his crew were presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece by Patrick Boutellier of Rolex Australia and the much coveted Tattersall’s Cup, for winning IRC handicap honours, by Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and Graham Taplin, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

“We are elated, it is a fantastic feeling, a huge thrill to win this race,” said a jubilant Ainsworth. “Having done 14 races, I know how hard it is to win this race. I have been trying for a long time. So many things have to go right for you and the wind gods were with us. Our race went extremely well. The aim for the navigators was to avoid stopping and we successfully did that, although we came close a couple of times. Look at what happened to super yacht Wild Oats XI – that could easily have happened to us.”

LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo D. Forster

Stephen Ainsworth´s Yacht LOKI Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

The present Loki yacht was launched three years ago after Ainsworth’s previous boat was lost after she was abandoned in severe conditions when her rudder broke during the 2007 Rolex Middle Sea. The new yacht was built for offshore racing and specifically to win the Rolex Sydney Hobart. This was Ainsworth and his crew’s fourth attempt in the latest Loki.

Ainsworth and Loki are one of the most successful teams racing in Australia at present. Last year they won the Australian IRC Championship, the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Yacht Race and this year Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Personally, this month Ainsworth was voted the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s joint Ocean Racer of the Year.

Stephen Ainsworth, owner of LOKI, Overall Handicap winner, with Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia Photo D. Forster

Stephen Ainsworth, owner of LOKI yacht, Overall Handicap winner, with Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

Typically they sail offshore with 18 crew and of these only one third are professional, led by Irish Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Gordon Maguire. On board typically Maguire helms while Ainsworth trims the main sheet. The other pros on board for the Rolex Sydney Hobart included other much capped round the world race sailors Anthony Merrington, Jeff Scott and sailmaker Alby Pratt, while a regular with Ainsworth is his long term navigator Michael Bellingham.

However, Maguire points out that many of their ‘amateur’ crew are among the most talented sailors in Australia. “We have really good sailors from all walks of life. It is more rewarding when you line up against fully pro crews.”

Overall Handicap Winner, LOKI crew with Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia Photo D. Forster

Overall Handicap Winner, LOKI yacht´s crew with Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

For the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year, sailing yacht Loki was fitted with a new, bigger mainsail and for the first time they had an on board weather expert to assist Bellingham in the form of British navigator Will Best.

According to Maguire, during the race they were always in contention, but down the east coast of Tasmania the 100ft supermaxi yachts had stretched away. “They were getting out to 120 miles in front of us and at that distance it was hard to stay in touch on handicap. But they parked up at Tasman Island and that brought us right back into them. We took 60 miles out of them that morning. So the handicap win came when the big boats parked up. We were always very confident that we had time on the boats behind us, particularly with how the weather patterns were going to shape up from halfway down the east coast to the finish.” Ainsworth said Loki would return to the Rolex Sydney Hobart next year to defend her title.

ELLA BACHE arriving in Hobart with Jessica Watson and the youngest ever crew to contest the race Photo K. Arrigo

ELLA BACHE arriving in Hobart with Jessica Watson and the youngest ever crew to contest the race Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

Slow boats up the Derwent
Meanwhile for today’s finishers the pace had distinctly slowed. Over 11 and a half hours, last night and into this morning, just one boat arrived as the water turned to glass on Storm Bay and the Derwent River leading up to Hobart.
Darryl Hodgkinson, skipper of the Beneteau First 45 Victoire summed it up best: “I thought it was going to be carbon copy of last year’s where we sat in the Derwent. This year we actually camped in Derwent! The last miles from the Tasman Light to the finish typically takes six to seven hours, on this occasion it took 15.

Ed Psaltis, co-owner of AFR Midnight Rambler arrived in Hobart suffering from an infected arm and unhappy with their performance. “It was very disappointing, our race. We made a few wrong choices. Entering Bass Strait we were in good shape against all the opposition and doing well overall, but we found a hole [in the wind] bigger that anyone else did and we sat there for six hours going nowhere. We also had northerly, adverse current in Bass Strait so we did very well going the wrong way.”

MERIT and OPTIMUS PRIME meet off Tasman Island Photo D. Forster

Sailing yachts MERIT and OPTIMUS PRIME meet off Tasman Island Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

Between two scheds AFR Midnight Rambler lost 25 miles, but once the wind turned favourable and they could set the kite on their new Ker 40, they managed to make up the deficit. Then they too had a slow finish. “It was probably the slowest passage I’ve had from Tasman Light to the finish – and this is a pretty quick boat. But that’s how it is,” said Psaltis. “Next year it will be a lot better than it was this year.”

Australia’s solo sailing star arrives
This afternoon the marina of Constitution Dock was packed five deep with spectators waiting patiently for the arrival of 18 year-old Australian solo sailor Jessica Watson. Since 2010 when she became the youngest person ever to have completed a singlehanded voyage non-stop around the world, Watson has become a media sensation in Australia.

In this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Watson achieved her ambition to lead the youngest crew ever to compete in the race. She and her seven crew – among them fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain’s Mike Perham – raced in the Sydney 38 class aboard the pink hulled Ella Baché Another Challenge.

KNEE DEEP and albatross catch the sunset off Tasman Island Photo D. Forster

KNEE DEEP yacht and albatross catch the sunset off Tasman Island Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

“It was really, really good, everything you would expect,” said Watson upon her arrival. “We had three quite bouncy nights on the nose. We didn’t see any severe conditions, but there was some pretty uncomfortable stuff for quite a while there.”

Having previously sailed on her own, Watson was full of praise for her crew. “The crew were awesome. It was the best sailing we’ve ever seen them do. It’s what we have been training for and they did exactly that. Everyone did an amazing job. All credit to them – I just held on for the ride.”

Her round the world voyage also didn’t involve competition, something which she seems to have relished in this Rolex Sydney Hobart. “The last leg in was amazing, some really close racing with the Sydney 38 fleet, changing positions all the time. Then to come in second was just awesome. It was as good as anyone could hope for. We had a really close battle with The Goat.” She added: “The race wouldn’t have been the same if we didn’t have that close boat-on-boat racing.” Watson was especially pleased to have beaten their coaches, sailing on Deloitte As One yacht.

Since lunch time, yachts have been flooding into Hobart, with 26 arriving between 13:23 (local time) and the latest arrival at 17:24 of Tony Warren’s Kiss Goodbye to MS, the 49th finisher. 28 yachts remain still racing with John Bankart’s Eressea, bringing up the rear, some 137 miles from the finish.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Final Jockeying To Determine The Handicap Winner

December 29, 2011

With the line honours podium decided in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the main attention now moves to the handicap race under IRC for the Tattersall’s Cup.

LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo D. Forster

Stephen Ainsworth´s Reichel Pugh 63 sailing yacht LOKI Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

Stephen Ainsworth’s crew on the successful Reichel Pugh 63 sailing yacht Loki is hoping that their corrected time in the race, that currently has them second under IRC, will elevate them to first place. This would give Ainsworth, who earlier this month was crowned the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s 2011 Ocean Racer of the Year, the handicap win in the Rolex Sydney Hobart that has so far eluded him.

Assuming the crew on the current IRC leader, Roger Hickman’s Farr 43 super yacht Wild Rose, continue to sail as well as they have to date in this race, then it will take a down turn in conditions for them to be toppled.

This afternoon Hickman’s 1993 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race winner had just under 100 miles to go to the finish.

Super yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo D. Forster

Super yacht LOKI Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

From on board Jennifer Wells reported: “We’ve been up with the leaders most of the time. At approximately 2.30pm we were 75 nautical miles from the Tasman Light in fluky winds. It’s been fabulous sailing down the east coast of Tasmania, but we’re hoping we’ll get better breeze. We’re ecstatic to be able to do so well in such an old boat’ that won the race in 1993.”

“It was wet and rough the first night, especially off Pambula. It was quite easy coming across Bass Strait – easier than sailing down the south coast.”

Of her skipper, Roger Hickman, currently sailing his 35th Rolex Sydney Hobart, Wells said: “It’s a benevolent dictatorship. The crew are very excited to sail on what was the original Wild Oats.”

WILD ROSE, Roger Hickman Photo D. Forster

Roger Hickman´s WILD ROSE superyacht Photo: ROLEX/D. Forster

However an area of high pressure is moving over the race area, bringing sunshine to the spectators turning out in Hobart, but also a drop in wind strength off the east coast of Tasmania. While Wild Rose yacht has a little in the bank in terms of her lead, we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out if Hickman can achieve his second win.

Latest arrivals

Meanwhile more yachts have arrived in Hobart, the latest being Jim Cooney’s former line honours winner, yacht Brindabella, home in 12th place on the water. Ahead of the classic 1990s maxi there has been a major showdown between the Rolex Sydney Hobart’s competitive fleet of 50 footers.

Home in 11th place, 16 minutes before Brindabella was Robert Date’s Reichel Pugh 52, Scarlet Runner superyacht.

BRINDABELLA passing Tasmania's iconic Organ Pipes Photo K. Arrigo

Sailing yacht BRINDABELLA passing Tasmania's iconic Organ Pipes Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

“We started off very well up until the time the sun went down on the first night, but we had a problem where we lost all our instruments, so we had to sail like blokes used to about 50 years ago with dead reckoning and a sextant!” said Date, adding that because of this they had lost around 15-20 miles on the competition and this they were unable to regain.

However this was not the end of their problems and at one stage Date said they were lucky not to dismast. “We lost one of the lower diagonal stays when the pin that holds it in came out. One of the crew managed to spot it and we grabbed it and changed on to the opposite tack and put that all back together. If we hadn’t spotted that in time we would have lost the mast.”

Aside from the yacht Date admitted that he had also had a few issues of his own during the race, suffering a fall in the cockpit and on one occasion when the bunk he was in, on the weather side, gave way and he was propelled down to the leeward side of the yacht.

Jason Van der Slot and John Williams’ Victorian crew on the modified TP52 Calm (formerly Stuart Robinson’s Stay Calm) were the first of the TP52s home, arriving in Hobart 11 minutes ahead of Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz, to take eighth place on the water.

They too had rigging issues. “We had a D1 pop out after Gabo on the first morning,” said Van der Slot. “We lost about six hours just making sure the rig was okay. From there we pumped the boat pretty hard and we managed to get in front of Ragamuffin and Jazz and we caught them up the river. We were eighth across the line but they might have got us on IRC. We are happy with how the boat performed – it was a good event.”

Van der Slot said that they had managed to regain lost ground on the Derwent river on the approach to Hobart thanks to local knowledge – he was born and bred here.

“The 50ft competition was amazing. Every time we tacked and gybed and crossed paths, it would be Ragamuffin there. I think we finished where we thought we would with the preparation we put in. We are a bit disappointed under IRC. We put a pretty hard campaign for this together nine months ago and we have got some good key people on board for this race. We are happy with where we finished up.”

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Investec Loyal Superyacht Crowned Line Honours Winners

December 29, 2011

After a three hour hearing at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania before the International Jury, the Race Committee’s protest against sailing yacht Investec Loyal was dismissed and Anthony Bell and the crew of his 100ft supermaxi finally became the line honours winners in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Line Honours Winner INVESTEC LOYAL crossing the finish line Photo K. Arrigo

Line Honours Winner sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL crossing the finish line Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

This afternoon at the Rolex Sydney Hobart 2011 prizegiving, held in front of a crowd lining Constitution Dock, CYCA Commodore Garry Linacre, Lord Mayor of Hobart, Damon Thomas, and Patrick Boutellier of Rolex Australia presented Anthony Bell with the JH Illingworth Trophy and a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece for the line honours victory.

“It is the long way around in some ways,” said a delighted Anthony Bell. “It is very relieving to get to this point. There are rules in every sport and, while it wasn’t ideal to go through this, I think that ultimately it gets beyond any question and whatever those questions that were asked have been properly answered.”

Line Honours Winner INVESTEC LOYALs crew Photo D. Forster

Line Honours Winner Super Yacht INVESTEC LOYAL´s crew Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

As to their victory, when yesterday Investec Loyal beat Bob Oatley’s five time Rolex Sydney Hobart line honours winning supermaxi super yacht Wild Oats XI to the Hobart finish line by a margin of just 3 minutes 8 seconds, Bell said: “We have come second to Wild Oats quite a lot. We came second last year to them and we kept coming second to them at Hamilton Island. It is an against-the-odds victory for us….I am still waiting for one of my crew members to wake me up and say you’re on watch!

INVESTEC LOYAL, Anthony Bell Photo K. Arrigo

INVESTEC LOYAL Superyacht, Anthony Bell Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

“The buzz is made best by the fact that Wild Oats XI is such a fantastic, professionally-run campaign by the Oatley family and, to have them compete so fiercely, it accelerated and heightened the value to us to go down the wire against a raceboat team like that.  They are the benchmark of supermaxi racing, not just in Australia, but in the world.”

Bell explained that the query to the ABC helicopter pilot about Wild Oats XI’s sails had been made by their tactician Michael Coxon. Coxon is also Managing Director of North Sails Australia and, after the strong winds of the first night at sea, he had been concerned about Wild Oats XI’s mainsail, made of their new product 3Di and believed to be the most expensive sail of its type in the world.

INVESTEC LOYAL Photo K. Arrigo

Supermaxi sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

“One of the things that they did take was that Michael Coxon’s question was not to gain any advantage for our boat at all, but more to test how his business client’s product, that they bought off him, was going,” said Bell of the international jury’s decision.

10 yachts home
To date ten yachts of the 77 still racing (out of 88 starters) have arrived in Hobart, the latest being Syd Fischer’s modified TP52 Ragamuffin. Of the yachts now docked, Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 yacht Loki is currently favourite for the overall IRC handicap prize in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart. However still ahead of her on handicap is Roger Hickman’s 26 year-old Farr 43 Wild Rose. Still racing, she must finish before 08:12 local time tomorrow (30 December) if she is to beat Loki’s time under handicap.

Line Honours Prizegiving Ceremony Anthony Bell, owner of INVESTEC LOYAL and Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia  Photo D. Foster

Line Honours Prizegiving Ceremony Anthony Bell, owner of INVESTEC LOYAL superyacht and Patrick Boutellier, Rolex Australia Photo: ROLEX/ D. Foster

Currently lying fourth under handicap is Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll, which was the sixth boat to reach Hobart, arriving at 08:46 local time this morning. Hiatt believes they lost a vital 15 minutes to Loki coming up the Derwent River on the approach to the finish. “It got back up to 30 knots and then we had a nice run up here, but it faded at the end of the Derwent,” he said.

The battle INVESTEC LOYAL and WILD OATS XI on the Derwent River Photo K. Arrigo

The battle: sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL and super yacht WILD OATS XI on the Derwent River Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

Unlike the maxi yacht leaders, which, from time to time, parked up over the latter half of their race, Hiatt said that on Living Doll they never stopped.

On the breezy first night at sea, they had seen 40 knots in the gusts. “It was really tricky. Some spooky breezes came in and they were pretty fierce. It would drop off to nothing and all of a sudden we’d get a lot more, so we had to handle that, but all of the transitions were really good. We just needed a tweak more speed.”

Hiatt sailed the race with a formidable crew including round the world race winners Steve Cotton and Noel Drennan and even had their own meteorologist on board in the form of Canadian Eric Holden.

The Maxis INVESTEC LOYAL and WILD OATS XI on the Derwent River Photo K. Arrigo

The Maxis INVESTEC LOYAL superyacht and sailing yacht bWILD OATS XI on the Derwent River Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

Seventh home this morning, 12 minutes after Living Doll was Matt Allen, former Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the Rolex Sydney Hobart organisers, aboard his first generation Volvo Open 70, Ichi Ban.

Ichi Ban had suffered a few issues during the race. On the first night the lock jammed, holding their main halyard, and in the strong conditions they were forced to spend the rest of the night sailing with three reefs. It was only on the following morning they were able to send a crewman aloft enabling them to hoist the sail fully once again.

LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo D. Forster

Supermaxi sailing yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo: ROLEX/ D. Forster

“That meant we had a really poor first night and it was really hard to recover from there,” said Allen. “We also broke one of the D4s [rigging on the mast], but luckily we picked it up before, otherwise we would have lost the mast.”

RAGAMUFFIN, Syd Fischer Photo K. Arrigo

Super Yacht RAGAMUFFIN, Syd Fischer Photo: ROLEX/ K. Arrigo

Allen said that in 22 Rolex Sydney Hobarts, he had never previously seen such big wind shifts, especially coming down the coast of Tasmania. During the race they ended up using all the sails on board, with the exception of the heavy running spinnaker. “It was hard work for the navigators, but we had nice sailing for the last 24 hours, good reaching spinnaker work – it’s been really enjoyable. The run we had from Tasman Island to the finish was probably the best run I’ve ever had in my entire life.”

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Closest Finish in 29 Years

December 28, 2011

The closest finish in the last 29 years of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was reported this evening when Anthony Bell’s supermaxi sailing yacht Investec Loyal managed to beat off repeated challenges from Bob Oatley’s perennial line honours victor Wild Oats XI superyacht to win by just 3 minutes and 8 seconds, after 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 8 seconds of racing on this classic 628 mile course.

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal on approach to the finish line Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal on approach to the finish line Photo: ROLEX/D. Foster

The competition for line honours in this race was one of the closest in its 67 year history with the two Australian maxis gunning for each other from the moment the canon was fired on Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. Wild Oats XI led until 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) on Tuesday when they were becalmed.

“They [Investec Loyal’s crew] were keeping track of how we were doing and the moment we stopped under a cloud with no wind under it, they basically sailed right around the outside of this large hole we were stuck in and came back above us. It was good work on their part,” described Wild Oats XI’s co-navigator, Ian Burns.

Fortunately the wind filled in soon after for Wild Oats XI yacht and they were able to resume the fight and, from this point on, the event became truly a gloves-off match race between the two 100 footers.

Super yacht Investec Loyal takes the finish cannon Photo D. Foster

Super yacht Investec Loyal takes the finish cannon Photo: ROLEX/ D. Foster

Finally this morning at 07:30 local time, Wild Oats XI regained the lead. With rarely more than two miles separating the two yachts, it was not until Wild Oats XI was becalmed again just short of Tasman Island and the entrance to Storm Bay, that Investec Loyal managed once more to skirt around the wind hole. This time they took up residence directly ahead of their opponent and from that point, despite the best efforts of the luxury yacht Wild Oats XI crew led by Mark Richards, Investec Loyal was not going to be passed.

Much to the delight of spectators thickly lining Hobart’s Constitution Dock, the two ocean racing giants came into sight up the Derwent River, but it was Investec Loyal and her crew, including sports stars, such as Australian rugby union internationals Phil Kearns and Phil Waugh, which was first home. They arrived at 19:14:18 local time, their elapsed time for the course being 2 days 6 hours 14 minutes and 18 seconds.

“It was one of the great experiences in my life,” said Anthony Bell, Investec Loyal’s owner and skipper with a beaming smile. “The whole thing from the very start, right through to the finish line was exhilarating. It was a really tough fought out race, but the crew believed in the boat and the cause right from the start and we are so happy to have got past the finish line first.”

Anthony Bell, owner/skipper of Investec Loyal superyacht

Anthony Bell, owner/skipper of Investec Loyal superyacht

Michael Coxon, tactician on Investec Loyal shared his thoughts on their win: “It has a very competent professional crew and a great owner who does it all for the right reasons. It is like a fairy tale – a boat that supports charity. This boat raised Aus$ 1 million this year for charity. That is the way it should happen. I am very happy for Anthony Bell. We sail with people who have never gone sailing before and they did a really good job.”

In what was principally a tactical victory for the older Investec Loyal, Coxon paid tribute to their American navigator. “The difference is a gentleman called Stan Honey,” he said. “He is an absolute legend – just amazing. His knowledge of weather and weather routing and the information he provides to me…at the end of the day he is just so good.”

Investec Loyal – provision winner at this stage
However at present Investec Loyal’s line honours victory in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart is provisional. The event’s Race Committee, led by Tim Cox, is protesting Anthony Bell’s boat over a believed infringement of Racing Rule of Sailing 41 entitled ‘Outside Help’. This involved the audio recording of a conversation that took place at 06:30 local time on 27th December between the pilot of an ABC TV station helicopter and an Investec Loyal crewman seeking information on the sail plan in use on Wild Oats XI – in particular whether she was flying a trisail.

“This is assessed to breach Rule 41 by soliciting help from an outside source,” explained Garry Linacre, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organiser of the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The case is to be heard by the race’s international jury at 10:00 local time tomorrow, 29th December.

Gracious in defeat
On board second placed super yacht Wild Oats XI, skipper Mark Richards was categorical about the outcome. “Those guys won on the water and we came second. That’s all there is to it. They did a great job those guys and they deserve the win.”

Richards added that he thought it had been a fantastic race. “We had to work our butts off until the end and we came in second. That’s the way it is. They sailed very well. We were very unlucky in a few situations, but those guys did a great job and when it came to the crunch. Their boat was little bit quicker than us downwind in the lighter air and they just managed to keep their nose in front and got to the line first.”

Next up
The next two yachts expected to arrive in Hobart at around 01:00 tomorrow morning are Peter Millard and John Honan’s supermaxi yacht Lahana and Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel Pugh 63 sailing yacht Loki.

The race for the Tattersall’s Cup, for handicap honours under IRC, remains wide open with Michael Hiatt’s Farr 55 Living Doll yacht ahead earlier this evening, but with Australian sailing legend, 84 year-old Syd Fischer and his modified TP52 Ragamuffin having taken the lead under IRC at the time of writing. Line Honours

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Maxi-boat Match Race

December 28, 2011

Sailing yacht Wild Oats XI’s position as the fastest boat in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race was being severely tested last night when at the 20:00 sched (local time, 09:00 UTC), Anthony Bell’s maxi yacht Investec Loyal overhauled the five time line honours winner.

Sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL, Anthony  Bell - Photo By Rolex  Kurt Arrigo

Sailing yacht INVESTEC LOYAL, Anthony Bell - Photo By Rolex Kurt Arrigo

Overnight the wind the leaders have seen has clocked through 360 degrees.

Crossing the Bass Strait yesterday Investec Loyal’s track south was some 20-30 miles east of Wild Oats XI’s. But early evening, when the wind backed from the southwest into the southeast, both boats tacked southwest, Loyal getting the better of the shift, aggressively bearing away towards her opponent. Making 14 knots compared to Wild Oats XI’s 9 knots, within an hour Investec Loyal had pulled ahead by 6 miles.

WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley  Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Overnight the lead duo in the Rolex Sydney Hobart have continued to round the northwest quadrant of an area of high pressure that, since yesterday, has been shifting east out into the Tasman Sea. With the wind continuing to back into the northeast so the duo at around 01:00 local time this morning on this occasion gybed southwest, allowing them to close on the east coast of Tasmania.

“We’ve got a yacht race on our hands out here!” came back the succinct report from the Wild Oats XI nav team in the early hours. “We are high speed running – more wind shifts ahead.”

However at around 07:30 local time this morning, sailing yacht Wild Oats XI nosed her way back into the lead.

Sailing yacht WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

Sailing yacht WILD OATS XI, Bob Oatley Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

With another light patch off the southeast coast of Tasmania, so the boats remain still quite offshore, now with the wind back in the southwest, where it was yesterday afternoon. With 72 miles to go to the finish off Hobart for Wild Oats XI at the latest sched, leading Investec Loyal by just 1.5 miles, ETAs into Hobart remain vague. The forecast is now showing the wind dying in Storm Bay and up the Derwent River leading up to Hobart – conditions which have destroyed many a winning yacht’s chances in previous years.

Sailing yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

Sailing yacht LOKI, Stephen Ainsworth Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Yacht LAHANA, Millard Honan Photo By Rolex  Kurt Arrigo

Yacht LAHANA, Millard Honan Photo By Rolex Kurt Arrigo

ELLA BACHE, Jessica Watson Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

ELLA BACHE, Jessica Watson Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

SY CADIBARRA, Paul Roberts - Photo By Rolex  Daniel Forster

SY CADIBARRA, Paul Roberts - Photo By Rolex Daniel Forster

Under IRC handicap, the battle for the Tattersall’s Cup continues to rage, with the best hopes now back to the maxis. In particular Peter Millard’s maxi Lahana (the former Zana/Konica Minolta), holding third place on the water 62 miles astern of Wild Oats XI, is looking very strong. For at present across the race course conditions are generally light, with the exception of where Lahana, Stephen Ainsworth’s Loki and Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss, are located off the east coast of Tasmania, where in 15-20 knot northerlies, Hugo Boss is recording the highest speed in the fleet of 17 knots.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Make or Break Night Ahead

December 27, 2011

At 1640 local time (0540 UTC) the leading supermaxi sailing yachts in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race were just over half way across Bass Strait, after the whole day in southwesterly winds that have been slowly decreasing from the 30 knots they saw last night and into this morning.

Spectators watch the fleet from South Head Photo D. Foster

Spectators watch the fleet from South Head Photo: D. Foster

Ian ‘Fresh’ Burns, co-navigator on line honours leader sailing yacht Wild Oats XI reported this afternoon there being 10-15 knots of wind from the southwest and this was allowing them to point “around 20 degrees low” of the Tasman Light (marking the entrance to Storm Bay still some 250 miles away). As a result they were further east than they might otherwise be. “It has been pretty good so far. We haven’t been becalmed or even slowed down. This is pretty much the lightest wind we have seen so far this trip.”

However Burns added that they were preparing for a most difficult night ahead. “It is going to be really really tough because we have a patch of light wind to fight our way through to get to the Tasmanian coast.” This is likely to involve a hitch west, which will happen if, as forecast, the wind backs into the southeast. Burns says they will then be aiming for a narrow band of favourable northerlies off the Tasman coast. Alas, there is one problem. “Between us and them there is a large 50-60 mile wide stretch of no wind and how we negotiate that and how that moves is really going to decide what we get.”

In addition to this since leaving Sydney Harbour yesterday Wild Oats XI superyacht has had a constant thorn in her side in the form of Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal supermaxi yacht. Over the course of today Loyal has dropped back to being 18 miles astern (in terms of distance to finish) but this is because she has been heading further east, with around 20 miles west-east split between the two yacht’s tracks this afternoon.

“It is going to be really difficult,” continued Burns. “Knowing the guys on Loyal as well as we do – Stan Honey and Michael Coxon – we know they will be throwing everything at us if it goes light, because when you are leading and the wind stops, the boat behind has a bunch of options to go around either side. I can see those guys plotting and scheming all evening to put us in a tough spot, but we will all be working our absolute hardest to keep things going. The guys are right now all concentrating on getting some rest while the boat is sailing along nicely to make sure we are in good shape tonight to throw everything at them that we need to.”

Tonight will be a lottery, or “nervous times” as Burns puts it. A couple of knots of difference in wind strength with a maxi can mean the difference of stuck at 0 knots or making 5 knots. Burns anticipates their arrival in Hobart tomorrow night before sunset, however if tonight does not go well then it could be Thursday morning, in which case Wild Oats XI’s seventh Rolex Sydney Hobart could also be her slowest ever.

Preparing for Bass Strait

Meanwhile the bulk of the fleet, from the 52 footers back, have spent the afternoon tight into the New South Wales coast. This is to enable them to set out into the powerful southwesterlies as they embark on their crossing of Bass Straight tonight, on the best possible course.

“Right now we have got about 16-18 knots and we are close reaching, with the no2 and full main, approaching Gabo Island, about another 40 miles from here,” reported Dirk Johnson, navigator on Rives Potts’ 1969-built Carina.  “We have a number of boats around us, all paralleling each other, waiting for the southwesterly breeze to come around the corner.”

According to Johnson, last night was bumpy, but in terms of wind strength he doesn’t remember seeing more than 29 knots. “It was a little uncomfortable. There were some bigger waves than we are used to seeing, but everyone did good and we held on and we had a good night.”

Johnson was looking forward to getting into the favourable current offshore tonight, but anticipated the wind generally getting lighter while a large meteorological question mark hangs over the rest of the race. As he states: “The situation changes dramatically from day to night and depending on where you cross the Strait, at different points on the Strait you can have different conditions. We are ready for everything I guess.”

While earlier the maxis were leading under IRC, as they have slowed so the smaller boats have pulled up the handicap standings. With Carina – which just four and a half months ago on the opposite side of the world, won her class in the Rolex Fastnet Race – up to third, so Roger Hickman’s 1985 Farr 43 super yacht Wild Rose is back in front again, from Stephen Ainsworth’s much tipped Reichel Pugh 62 yacht Loki in second. The Beneteau 40 footers – Lunchtime Legend, Balance, Two True and Victoire – currently just north of Eden this afternoon, remain in the top 10.

Jessica Watson

Fans of 18 year old Australian solo round the world sailor Jessica Watson will also be pleased to hear that her teenage team on Ella Bache is the top Sydney 38 under IRC (albeit fourth in class). Her crew of eight, including fellow youth solo round the world sailor, Britain’s Mike Perham, have been training for the Rolex Sydney Hobart for the last three months, a schedule that included a dry run, sailing their pink boat from Sydney to Hobart and back three weeks ago.

“We are quite excited because the forecast is similar to the forecast we had for our practice run,” says Watson, shortly before leaving yesterday. “So we’ve experienced almost those exact same conditions.”

Watson and her crew are aiming to be the youngest crew to complete the Rolex Sydney Hobart. However Watson says she has higher expectations. “We put a lot of time and energy into this, so we’ll be here to perform as well as possible particularly within our own division.”

This afternoon has seen four more retirements, leaving 81 boats still racing. The GP42 Duende pulled out after crewman Tom Wormald suffered a dislocated shoulder and was dropped ashore. Later Sam Chan’s Hong Kong-based TP52 Ffreefire 52, skippered by Anthony Day, headed back to Sydney after suffering mainsail problems. Finally Matthew Percy’s Beneteau First 44.7 Alacrity suffered rigging damage and was putting into Eden while Jonathan Stone’s Davidson 34 Illusion had hull damage and was returning to Sydney.

2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race: Into Bass Strait

December 27, 2011

At 11:00 local time (midnight UTC ), the leading vessels in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race were the sailing yacht Wild Oats XI and Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal superyacht 11 miles astern, just crossing Bass Strait. These two have now broken away from the fleet with Peter Millard’s super yacht Lahana third, 39 miles off the lead.

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX entering  Bass Strait Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX entering Bass Strait Photo D. Foster

Further back still, Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss yacht is fourth on the water, doing well to fend off the advances of Stephen Ainsworth’s all conquering Reichel Pugh 63 yacht Loki.

Yesterday evening local time, the fleet saw the wind clock around through 180 degrees as the front passed overhead, the wind kicking in with some violence from the south, putting the boats hard on the wind.

Stephen Ainsworth's Loki exiting Sydney Harbour after the start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Photo K. Arrigo

Stephen Ainsworth's Loki exiting Sydney Harbour after the start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Photo K. Arrigo

As Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Cookson 50 Jazz yacht recounted: “The front passed last night with quite a punch, with pelting rain that lasted for about 40 minutes, but kept things busy for Andy Hudson and the bow team, as we quickly had to change sails.” The rapid change in wind direction, and with the wind now counter to the south-going current, has kicked up an evil sea. Broughton described this as being 3-4m high, short and confused.

In the all-important IRC handicap battle for the Tattersall’s Cup, nothing clear is transpiring yet. At the time of writing Wild Oats XI, the biggest fastest boat in the fleet, had eased ahead, but previously leading had been the 1985-built Farr 43 Wild Rose, winner of the Rolex Sydney Hobart in 1993 and skippered by race veteran Roger Hickman.  The smaller Beneteaus were also performing well – in particular Darryl Hodgkinson’s much tipped Beneteau First 45 Victoire, Paul Clitheroe’s 45 Balance and Andrew Saies on his 2009 Rolex Sydney Hobart winning First 40, Two True.

At present the bulk of the fleet are still hugging the New South Wales coast where the wind is in the south and they are hard on the wind. However conditions have momentarily improved for the maxis out in Bass Strait where the wind, currently blowing 25-30 knots, has veered into the southwest allowing the boats to head south on starboard tack. But the forecast is indicating stop-start progress for the 100 footers.

The wind is due to fizzle out this afternoon (local time) as a small bubble of high pressure eases east off the coast of Tasmania. But once the high gets offshore, some northerly pressure could build close in to the Tasman coast, allowing the big boats to forge south once more.

Despite a first testing night at sea, to date there have only been three retirements from 88 starters. Just before midnight local time Sam Haynes’ Rogers 46 Celestial withdrew having suffered a broken gooseneck, while Marc and Louis Ryckmans GP42 Accenture (Yeah Baby) pulled out with unspecified gear failure.

Hot off the press is that 2003 line honours winner, Grant Warrington ‘s Wild Thing yacht is the latest retirement, having suffered sail damage. At the time of her pulling out she was holding third place on the water.

Green Comm Racing joins in with the Region of Lombardy in its Challenge for the 34th America’s Cup

December 27, 2011

Green Comm Racing, the youngest team to compete in the history of the America’s Cup, joins two of Europe’s most dynamic regions, Lombardy and Valencia, in its challenge for the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco by promoting the values of sustainability.

Green Comm Racing - Photo Gilles Martin Raget - ACEA- 34th Americas Cup

Green Comm Racing - Photo Gilles Martin Raget - ACEA - 34th America's Cup

With the presence of the key Officers of the Lombardy Region, the President of the Real Club Nautico de Valencia, Manuel Pons, the President of Circolo Vela Gargnano, Lorenzo Rizzardi, Green Comm Racing and its Executive Chairman, Francesco De Leo, a major milestone was reached, by securing the institutional support of the Lombardy Region in promoting the first European Challenge for the 34th America’s Cup.

The Region of Lombardy, Italy’s industrial and technological heartland, and one of Europe’s most dynamic regions, has teamed up with Green Comm Racing to launch the first America’s Cup challenge which aims at tapping the innovation and research capabilities of two nations, Italy and Spain, by promoting a global sustainability agenda.

Green Comm Racing and the Real Club Nautico de Valencia (RCNV) have engaged with Circolo Vela Gargnano (CVG) to reinforce the ties between Italy and Spain, and promote the first European Challenge in the history of the America’s Cup.

Green Comm Racing yacht - 34th America's Cup San Diego - Photo ACEA - Gilles Martin-Raget

Green Comm Racing yacht - 34th America's Cup San Diego - Photo ACEA - Gilles Martin-Raget

With a budget of 54 million Euros for its 34th America’s Cup campaign, Green Comm Racing is now working on the development of the AC72 multihull, which will be launched on the waters of San Francisco at the beginning of 2013.

The new class of AC72 multi-hulls is a de-facto platform for innovation, a combination of state of the art technology, science and research. The Region of Lombardy is one of the leading innovation hubs in the world, with a tradition of technological excellence and entrepreneurship, which spans across a number of scientific domains which are keys to building up a successful America’s Cup campaign. Among them:

1. Advanced materials

2. Yacht design and construction

3. Electronic and sensors

4. E-health

5. Sustainability and renewable energy

Sailing Team Green Comm Racing - Photo ACEA Gilles Martin Raget - San Diego 2011 - 34 Americas Cup

Sailing Team Green Comm Racing - Photo ACEA Gilles Martin Raget - San Diego 2011 - 34 Americas Cup

Green Comm Racing is building up the youngest team ever to compete in the America’s Cup, engaging a new generation of European athletes, selected from Olympic sailing trials, tapping a new wave of young European entrepreneurs, which are bringing together breakthroughs in technology and innovation to promote sustainability across the World.

Commenting on the launch of the first ever European Challenge, which aims at tapping the best young talents in sports and technology, Francesco De Leo, Executive Chairman of Green Comm Racing, said: “We are delighted and proud to have been chosen by one of Europe’s most dynamic regions to tap and enhance the entrepreneurial spirit, the technological prowess and the athletic excellence of a new generation of Europeans.

Promoting the values of sustainability is not an issue relegated to one single country or region of the world. We are not just Italian, Spanish, or French.

We are first and foremost Europeans and we need to inspire and engage the new generation to take charge in addressing one of the most critical challenges of our times: climate change and sustainability.

The America’s Cup with its innovative format and its focus on pushing the edge of technology and innovation is the best platform and test ground for new talents and opens up the opportunity to engage a young and dynamic global audience by sharing the journey towards a more sustainable planet.

San Francisco and the Bay Area are the most iconic venues for a world class event, such as the New America’s Cup: California is The Hub for innovation in green tech and the ties to Lombardy, Valencia and Europe will be greatly enhanced by reaching out to a new generation of young entrepreneurs which are feeling at home across both sides of the Atlantic.

In the end, the New America’s Cup is not just a next generation, top class sport event: this time, more than ever, it will inspire and ignite a new wave of innovation, with an enduring impact on our progress towards a more sustainable world.

It’s time for Europe to come together to address the challenge of building on each  other’s strengths, and rebuilding trust across diverse constituencies: sport can play a role, and the America’s Cup provides a great opportunity to reach out to a new generation of young Europeans”.

The first day of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

December 27, 2011

On Monday, December 26, Sydney Harbour was full of spectators expecting the 1300 local time departure of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with 88 fleet ready at the start line.

Start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Photo D. Forster

Start of the 67th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Photo: D. Forster

Earlier in the morning, four Melbourne-based crews had been affected by last night’s severe storm as they attempted to fly up to Sydney for today’s start. Some didn’t make it while others did, but without their foul weather gear.

“There were huge thunder storms, 120km/h winds, trees down, 25mm diameter hailstones,” recounted Robert Date, skipper of one of the affected boats, the Reichel Pugh 52 Scarlet Runner yacht. “We hope we don’t get that tonight, although I think we might.”

Leading the charge out of Sydney Harbour was the mighty 100 footer sailing yacht Wild Oats XI, with Anthony Bell’s Investec Loyal superyacht hanging on to her coat tails. In fact the start had not gone as smoothly as planned for Bob Oatley’s serial line honours winner. During pre-start manoeuvres the drive unit for the main sheet winch had frozen up and for the start they had to transfer the main sheet to the spare primary winch as crewmen Jon Hildebrand and Ian Smith scrabbled down below to effect a repair.

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX at the RSHYR 2011 Photo D. Foster

Sailing yacht Wild Oats IX at the RSHYR 2011 Photo: D. Foster

After a short upwind to the Heads, after exit Sydney Harbour, so the yachts rounded the final turning mark and hoisted their spinnakers in a 18 knot northerly wind. The seaway immediately offshore was particularly substantial, with boats disappearing up to their first spreaders in the troughs, the sea kicked up due to the remnants of tropical cyclone Fina.

While this afternoon the fleet is enjoying a fast run south down the coast, Wild Oats XI yacht making a solid 18 knots under A2 gennaker, a typical Rolex Sydney Hobart southerly is due to kick in tonight further down the New South Wales coast as a trough moves east across the Tasman Sea.

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal chasing after the Wild Oats XI superyacht

Sailing yacht Investec Loyal chasing after the Wild Oats XI superyacht Photo: K. Arrigo

This morning Rob Webb, Regional Director of the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, admitted to competitors that tonight’s southerlies would have much more punch than forecast previously. “At this stage we are saying 20-25 knots, but on the front edge it will be pretty gusty with a 30 knots average and gusts up to 40 knots.”

Or as Mike Broughton, navigator on Chris Bull’s Jazz warned, “there were some huge hailstones, the size of tennis balls that rained down on Melbourne last night – that is coming our way. We might not get tennis balls, but we might get peas. And it is going to be bumpy, because of the East Australia Current, which is going to be taking us south at 2 knots and we also have a wave train from the tropical cyclone off Brisbane. So quite windy and with the confused seas, it is going to be a busy first night.”

However on a scale of one to ten in terms of severity, Broughton predicts the weather in this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart will only score a four. “The first night will be quite busy, but after that it gets quite benign and it is going to be a real fight in the light winds to the east of Tasmania and I think that will be when the race will be won or lost.”

Super yacht Wild Oats XI skipper Mark Richards said that tonight’s conditions would “sort a bit of the fleet out”, but afterwards it would turn into a tactically very challenging race. “It is probably more of a traditional forecast than anything. It is still going to be very light down the south coast of Tasmania but even in 4-5 knots of breeze, big boats like ours are still doing 13-15 knots. It all depends on the wind angle, but it is looking a bit faster today which is good. With a forecast like this it would be easy to park up and Loyal and those guys could put a few miles on you, so it [line honours] is by no means a given.”

Skipper of Loki superyacht, Stephen Ainsworth, agreed that this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart was going to be a difficult race. “It is all fairly clear until you get to the south side of Bass Strait and then anything could happen. It is an easy place to get into trouble and suffer bad luck by being becalmed down the coast of Tasmania and even in the Derwent River and Storm Bay. Many a race winner has gone from being a rooster to a feather duster in a very short space of time there. So the handicap contest looks like it will be very tricky indeed.”

Loki has a new larger mainsail for this race and in addition they have a new weather specialist on board in the form of British navigator Will Best. “I think he’ll pay for himself in this race in particular,” said Ainsworth.

With Loki yacht having won the Australian IRC Championship, the Audi Sydney Gold Coast Race and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week they are certainly on a roll at present. “It has been a fabulous 12-18 months and I just hope that our luck hasn’t all run out now. This is the only race that I would dearly love to win, which I haven’t yet won,” concluded Ainsworth.

A pummelling is exactly the conditions that would suit British solo round the world sailor Alex Thomson and his six-strong crew on board the two tone IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss. Thomson is fresh from having finished second in the doublehanded Transat Jacques Vabre across the North Atlantic from France to Costa Rica in Central America and this is his third Rolex Sydney Hobart.

His Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed 60 is a handful singlehanded, but fully crewed Thomson is relishing the prospect of coaxing the boat up to its maximum potential. “We are really looking forward to be able to sail it properly in this race. I think it is a good boat for this race.”

While the prospect for a park-up off the east coast of Tasmania is weighing on the minds of big boat crews, it is possible that this year’s race could favour the small boats if the weather turns favourable towards the end of the week. Certainly Andrew Saies, who won the Tattersall’s Cup for the Rolex Sydney Hobart handicap win in 2009 was liking the forecast for his Beneteau First 40, Two True, particularly tonight’s southerly. “My boat is quite competitive upwind in 15-20 knots – it really hits the straps in those conditions. Then they fade out after 24 hours and we are back into a very mixed light air pattern, potentially in different directions and that really mixes the race up and brings us back into touch with the big boats, so we really like that.”

Saies and his crew from Adelaide race Two True extensively around the east coast of Australia, however since 2009 when their yacht was the only First 40 in the race, this time there are three others to contend with, plus one Archambault 40. “I guess we have the advantage that we’ve shaken the bugs out of the boat in an ocean race.”